We started off with a marathon drive from Denver to Houston. With good music, truck stop coffee and wasabi snacks the wind was on our side. We landed at the doorstep of Sedition Books where we met Bones–by far the most amazing person in Texas. Bones directed us to areas in need and we began to seek out the impoverished, undocumented and otherwise left behind.
What we found was a twilight zone. While reports from across Texas spoke of the large undocumented immigrant population of Houston that was terrorized away from seeking aid, no one could tell us where these people could be found. Instead, we found rows of hopping bars and strip clubs. Somewhere in Houston people did not have water, power or roofs. However, these populations have been so marginalized and threatened by the INS they have become–quite literally–invisible.
We helped where we could and headed to Bayou Vista, the town on the shore of the bridge to Galveston. While seeking leads to get into the police state that is Galveston, we stationed ourselves outside of a Salvation Army truck and tried to offer as much support and assistance to those seeking meals. People were grateful to have someone greeting them and loading them up with meals and snacks.
The fire chief of Bayou Vista greeted us warmly and told us we were needed on Galveston. He sent us to the check point leading into the island with the name of a fire chief. The state troopers on the bridge let us on and we drove straight through the ravaged island without complication.
Plugging into traditional systems may not be the first choice of mutual aid healers, but in the case of militarized Galveston, it seemed to be our only option. The traditional state sysems were strained. Most of the fire and EMS stations in Galveston have been wiped out. The local structure needed more trained, experienced and credentialed volunteers. We met the fire chief at Station 1 and were warmly greeted. He assured us that we were needed to help on the island and helped us find the EMS station that was left standing. There we were told that Wednesday–the day Galveston residents would be returning to the island–was expected to be a hard day that would need a lot of assistance from all volunteers. The EMS supervisor arrived at the station just as we heard word that curfew had passed. She spoke with us and said she would help us get involved in some of the relief efforts.
And then a FEMA EMT walked into the room, shutting and locking the door behind him. He demanded to know what ambulance company we worked for. He told us that his employer–AMR, a private ambulance company–had won the bid to work Galveston. He spoke for well over 30 minutes about how no one needed our help and our training was worthless. He stepped outside and locked us in the room with the paramedic supervisor. She informed us that FEMA credentials would be required to enter any area hit hard by the Hurricane and that no one needed help–quite contrary to reports coming from undocumented workers fleeing FEMA and the rest of the federal government.
The FEMA agent returned and told us that he was working to plug us in to the system. We were told to wait more. Eventually we asked to leave the room to eat. We were informed that FEMA agents were coming to help us connect into the system. We decided we wanted to leave the island rather than wait any further, as we did not want to work for FEMA. The agent told us we would have to wait. We asked if he called the police. He said he did not and that one officer may arrive with the agents.
Moments later a State Trooper and Galveston Police vehicle arrived. Three officers were on scene. The trooper approached, demanded to see IDs and credentials and informed us we were being detained and potentially arrested because we did not work for FEMA. While he ran our IDs another officer began to document our vehicle. The officers were abrasive, rude and repeatedly told us we would be arrested if we ever returned to Galveston.
As we were escorted out by the officers, we were given the scenic tour of the corporations profiteering off the disaster (Home Depot), the police state established by FEMA and finally the corporate media lounging in camping chairs outside of the beachside Hyatt.
To say the least, we wanted nothing more than to leave Texas. Thus, we headed to Louisiana. For now we are set up at a free store for the people in the community. It is run out of a small building outside a woman’s trailer and is incredibly grassroots. FEMA left the poor and indigenous people of the bayou to tough it out. We will be working along side of them.
I am tired and it is hard to be very expressive. All I can say is that the time has come for radical communities to develop disaster relief plans based on mutual aid, as the next time we have an incident like Katrina, it will all go down behind barbed wire and checkpoints.